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Miller School Stars Shine at International Student Research Conference

A select group of medical, graduate and M.D./Ph.D. students and resident physicians at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine had the opportunity to present their work and network with dozens of student peers and academic professionals at the 2018 Eastern-Atlantic Student Research Forum (ESRF).

Miller School student Xavier Scott, center, with Viviana Horigian, M.D., and Roderick King, M.D., M.P.H.

The four-day international symposium, held annually on the Miller School campus for the past 44 years, features presentations of original basic science and clinical research in multiple biomedical fields. In addition to formal presentations, the forum includes the informal exchange of scientific ideas among students and faculty preceptors, the encouragement of student-initiated research and the professional development of future leaders in biomedical research.

“This year’s ESRF was a tremendous success. It is one of the most important ways in which we prepare the next generation of biomedical researchers,” said Carl I. Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., professor of surgery and executive dean for research, who delivered the welcoming address. “Enabling them to present their work at a competitive level, and to meet and converse with future colleagues, gives an early boost to their careers. It also provides an annual spotlight on the cutting-edge work that is being done overall here at the Miller School.”

For the past 11 years, the ESRF has provided the venue for presentation of the Alving Award, created through the generosity of a $100,000 donation by Miller School alumnus Carl Alving, M.D., and his wife, Barbara Alving, M.D., and given to the medical student with the year’s most outstanding research presentation. A number of additional awards — sponsored by the ESRF, the Medical Faculty Association and the Department of Public Health Sciences — were also presented this year.

From left, banquet speaker W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., with ESRF co-directors Owen Sze Kiat Tan and Sandy Jiang.

This year, the ESRF was honored to have a Miller School alumnus as its keynote speaker. David A. Hafler, M.D. ’78, the William S. and Lois Stiles Edgerly Professor of Neurology and Immunology, and chair of the Department of Neurology at Yale School of Medicine, presented “How to Cure a Disease, or Never Give In, Never Give In. Never, never, never.” He was one of the ESRF’s founders and the organizer of the 1978 forum.

For the fifth consecutive year, the career-focused portion of the program — “Career Development in Research: A Path or a Journey” — was hosted by Jaime Rubin, Ph.D., vice chair for investigator development at Columbia University. She made landmark scientific history in describing the first identification and characterization of a human DNA repair gene in her Ph.D. thesis, which was published in Nature. Her valuable contributions to the ESRF stem from her extensive experience teaching and mentoring junior investigators, and educating others on misconduct in research and issues concerning publication, authorship and peer review.

This year’s Plenary Session focused on “Scientific Funding and Public Perception,” and featured a distinguished interdisciplinary panel of guest speakers, including Rubin, Phillip K. Stoddard, Ph.D., mayor of South Miami, professor of biology at Florida International University, and a founder of the Miami Climate Alliance; and Caroline Lewis, founder and executive director of the CLEO Institute. Speakers from the Miller School were Claes Wahlestedt, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, associate dean for therapeutic innovation, and director of the Center for Therapeutic Innovation; and Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., M.S., professor and chairman of neurology and Olemberg Family Chair in Neurological Disorders;

From left, ESRF Executive Committee: Co-Directors Sophia Liu, Sandy Jiang and Owen Sze Kiat Tan, Director Isabel Perez, and Co-Directors Celeste Amadei and Miling Wang.

James DeGregori, Ph.D., deputy director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, presented the Distinguished Lecture: “The Ecology of Cancer: How Changes in Tissue Microenvironments Drive Cancer Evolution.”

The ESRF conference concluded with W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., scientific director of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and Kinetics Concepts Distinguished Chair in Neurosurgery, as the banquet speaker. His talk, “New Insights into the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Brain and Spinal Cord Injury,” stemmed from his research focus on cellular and molecular injury mechanisms underlying various neurological disorders and neuroprotection in terms of correlating temperature of the brain and spinal cord with neuronal death and injury.

An additional conference highlight was participation by the Miller School’s Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and Department of Public Health Sciences. Of the 122 presentations at the conference, 19 were made by UM graduate students, 24 were made by Public Health Sciences students, 44 were made by UM medical students, and 35 were made by non-UM students from other medical schools.

The Miller School students who took part in the conference described the take-away as extremely valuable.

“It provided me the opportunity to make friends from all over the United States — an opportunity that I treasure a lot,” said M.D. candidate Owen Sze Kiat Tan, who was one of ESRF’s co-directors. “In addition, it was an inspiring experience meeting the many dedicated clinicians, researchers and mentors in medicine.”

Another ESRF co-director, M.D. candidate Sophia Liu, described ESRF as a unique asset.

“It offers students the opportunity to not only present their research, but also to learn what goes on behind the scenes in organizing a conference, inviting speakers and recruiting judges,” she said. “It offers a different view of research, and it allows students to make connections not only with peers and research physicians, but also between departments.”

ESRF Director Isabel Perez, who has planned the conference for the past 24 years, received special praise from her student co-directors.

M.D./M.P.H. candidate Sandy Jiang, who has helped organize ESRF for four years, two as co-director, said Perez sets the bar higher and higher every year.

“I return each year eager to help her with this special conference,” said Jiang. “I thank her for her mentorship, and I know that I have learned much from her that will assist my own future leadership endeavors.”

Sophia Liu offered similar kudos.

“Isabel Perez is the fearless leader of this annual event and works tirelessly to ensure that ESRF is a success each time,” she said. “She serves as a liaison between the students and administration, and she is so supportive of student ideas and contributions. It was a pleasure to work with her and the other student leaders these past three years, and I look forward to seeing where ESRF will go in the future!”

Other schools participating in ESRF were:

Albany Medical College
Boston University
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons
Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University
Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine
George Washington University School of Medicine
Louisiana State University School of Medicine
Rutgers University Medical School
University of Central Florida College of Medicine
University of Connecticut School of Medicine
University of Florida College of Medicine
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Washington University School of Medicine
Weill Cornell Medical College

Student award winners were:


Outstanding Basic Science Oral Presentations

First Place – Tie
Michael Birnbaum
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Christina Tejeda
Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons

Second Place
Zachary M. Connelly
Louisiana State University Health Science Center

Outstanding Basic Science Poster Presentations

First Place
Wasila Mansouri
Albany Medical College

Second Place
Gurleen Kaur
Albany Medical College

Outstanding Clinical Science Oral Presentations

First Place
Sinan Jabori
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Second Place
Manish Mehta
Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons

Outstanding Clinical Science Poster Presentations

First Place
Joshua Jue
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Second Place
David McCarthy
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

(Miller School internal award program)

Best Overall Public Health Sciences Presentation

Maxwell Presser

Alving Award

Erica Feldman

Department of Public Health Sciences Outstanding Poster Award

First Place
Xavier Scott

Second Place
Siddharth Iyengar

(Miller School internal award program)

Outstanding Basic Science Oral Presentations

First Place
Kristen Sanders

Second Place
Nadja Andrade

Outstanding Basic Science Poster Presentations

First Place
Leah Nemzow

Second Place
James Grosso

Tags: Eastern-Atlantic Student Research Forum, medical education, research